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Research creates refurbishment opportunities for supermarket refrigeration units

LSBU PhD researcher Dan Bibalou's project is assessing the sustainability of supermarket refrigeration display cabinets

Dan is looking into how to extend their life cycle, maximise their value and reduce the embodied footprint by building them so they can be 'remanufactured'. He advocates moving from a linear to a circular economy where products are designed to return.

The objective of Dan Bibalou's project is to develop end of life strategies covering all styles of refrigeration units from brand new to recycled, refurbished to remanufactured cabinets, based on environmental, economic and social criteria.

The linear economy is one where you design, produce, use and then dispose. While in a circular economy the product is designed so that it can return. We are not talking about recycling, but about refurbishing or remanufacturing a product to extend its life cycle.

Dan Bibalou, PhD Researcher

Demonstrating LSBU's work with industrial partners, Bibalou secured £100,000 in funding over three years for his project. Two thirds is covered by the EPSRC and the remaining third by the Bond Group, that remanufactures and refurbishes refrigerated display cabinets to supply the UK's big seven supermarkets. It is the first time a PhD student has undertaken research dedicated to the operation and the project was proposed by Bibalou's PhD supervisors, who introduced him to his industrial sponsor.

He kicked off the research by focusing on economic and environmental aspects. He found these are not only related to carbon but a broader palette of impacts including toxicology, cold and biodiversity. "I translated the idea into a methodology, into words and into metrics", he explains.

30% retailer electricity used by refrigeration

Preliminary findings based on retailer interviews and surveys provided fresh insights by shedding fresh light on user practices. He found:

Decision making on cost at the point of acquisition is fairly short sighted, because cabinets function as fridges and are plugged in 24/7. Cabinets for refrigeration use up to a third of electricity used by retailers. […] We calculated that the retail industry in this country consumes 9% of the production of electricity.

Dan Bibalou, PhD Researcher

He also worked out that the embodied footprint of a standard multi-deck cabinet, the most popular you see in supermarkets, is half a tonne of carbon. With 40 cabinets per 300,000 sq ft of space in supermarkets, the figure adds up when all branches of the big seven are taken into account.

All the elements that make up refrigeration have an impact. If you purchased the right cabinet, you could basically use this cabinet for an extended period of time. When it is reaching its end of life you could, if it has been designed correctly, extend its life again, by remanufacturing the product.

Dan Bibalou

Higher Spec Cabinets Assist Returns

He recommends fridges with a higher specification in terms of performance and structural integrity of the cabinet, "with better cabinets, with screws instead of rivets for easier replacement instead of throwing them away."

Dan is half French and half Gabonese. He joined his brother in Portsmouth in 2006 and did a foundation degree in mechanical design. He then completed a BEng in Mechanical Engineering at LSBU, and subsequently offered to work on this research project. He found the university well suited to mature students. With many of his lecturers also working in industry before returning to academia he rates LSBU as highly professional.

 
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